Foreigners are new working class doing low-paid jobs Maltese no longer want

Over the last decade, the portion of Maltese workers earning less than €20,000 fell by 30% to be squarely taken up by lower-paid, non-EU workers

A decade of massive economic growth in Malta marked by the importation of labour from overseas, has seen a decrease in Maltese workers within the lowest-paid salary bands.

The data presented in the Maltese House of Representatives, shows that despite a growth in Maltese workers from 155,000 in 2012, to 174,000 in 2022, the actual number of workers paid less than €20,000 decreased by a sheer one-third – 29.1%.

In 2012 there were 108,000 Maltese nationals earning less than €20,000 a year; a decade later they fell to 77,000. In all other salary bands, there was an increase in the Maltese workforce.

The same data suggests that many of these jobs were directly filled by lower-paid migrants from outside the European Union, even if these numbered just 37,000 in 2022.

Indeed, so called third-country nationals totalled just 3,560 in 2012, growing exponentially since then. Yet the largest increases in TCNs were in those salary bands that fall below €20,000: from a mere 3,000 in 2012 (85% of the TCN workforce) to 29,000 (71% of TCN workforce).

The data clearly suggests the slow ‘decline’ in lower-paid working class jobs for Maltese nationals, was eventually taken up by workers from outside the European Union.

Prof. Manwel Debono, from the Centre of Labour Studies at the University of Malta, said the data shows the emergence and strengthening of a dual labour market in which TCNs do low-paid, lower-skilled jobs which the Maltese do not want to do, while the Maltese are able to choose jobs that pay more and have better working conditions.

“There are a multitude of reasons for the channeling of TCNs in lower-paid jobs, such as their greater readiness to accept such jobs, their lack of social connections, language difficulties, their low levels of unionisation, the incompatibility of their qualifications or skills with our requirements, our social structures that reduce their options, and just plain discrimination,” Prof. Debono told MaltaToday.

“One should note that TNCs are often trapped in their work situation, without any possibility of improving,” he added, pointing out that this was a situation of concern for different reasons.

“First of all, TCNs are often treated unfairly by our society. They are viewed as a commodity rather than as human beings and there is hardly any attempt at integrating them in the Maltese society. This is morally wrong.”

Prof. Debono adds that while many Maltese might be benefiting economically from this dual labour market – as employers, businesses, or landlords charging rents – this growth of disparity will inevitably lead to greater social difficulties and problems.

“It is not in the interest of our society as a whole to continue permitting the growth of such socio-economic disparities... if TNCs suffer from lower occupational health and safety, they may place a greater burden on the public health system; or if TCNs families are not integrated in society, this may result in greater frictions in public schools,” Prof. Debono said.

“I think that it is essential for our society, including our politicians, to consider the long-term effects of utilising an increasing number of low-paid TCNs. We must take into account the current and future consequences of this situation and implement better management strategies.”

Other data from JobsPlus clearly shows that an Asian working class taking root with workers from Nepal and India, as well as Albania in Europe, registering the sharpest percentage increase over the past five years, with non-EU workers even outnumbering workers from the EU in most economic sectors.

The increase in workers from South Asia, often recruited by agencies, reflects the rise of the gig economy that followed in the wake of the COVID pandemic, and an increased demand for health workers.

Workers from India increased from 443 in 2016 to 5,817 in September 2021; while in the same period workers from Nepal increased from just 29 to 2,481. Workers from Albania also increased sharply from 62 in 2016 to 2,037 last year.

Among workers hailing from EU member states, the sharpest increase was registered among Italians, whose number increased from 5,724 in 2016 to 10,038 in 2021.

The highest number of non-EU workers are employed in administrative and support services (6,296), the construction industry (5,296), hotel accommodation (5,502) and health (4,358).

EU workers outnumber third-country nationals in sectors like financial services, professional jobs and the entertainment sector, which includes gaming.